Create a WordPress Site From the Command Line Using Terminus and WP-CLI

Learn how to install and use Terminus and WP-CLI to control a WordPress site on Pantheon.

Contributors: Brian MacKinney, Cal Evans, Steve Persch, Tessa Kriesel, David Needham.

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Many developers feel more at home using the command line than they do using a GUI. Edit a text file, issue a command, and bang—you've completed your task. There's just something about doing it all from the command line that makes it a little more exciting. Until recently, WordPress didn't have a great answer for developers who are most at home on the CLI.

WP-CLI is a tool used to manage a WordPress installation. However, don't think of it as a simple backup or search and replace tool. Yes, it can do those things, but it's so much more than that. This guide will walk you through creating and configuring a site from the command line using Pantheon's own CLI, called Terminus, which allows you to call WP-CLI remotely without using a local installation.

Before You Begin

Be sure that you:

  • Are familiar with your operating system's command line.
  • Are using a Unix-based system (Linux or Mac OS X). Windows commands may vary slightly.
  • Have created a Pantheon account. Pantheon accounts are always free for development.

Install and Authenticate Terminus

Terminus provides advanced interaction with the platform and allows us to run WP-CLI commands remotely. Terminus also opens the door to automating parts of your workflow by combining multiple operations. For more information about Terminus itself, see our Terminus Manual.

  1. Install Terminus within the $HOME/terminus directory:

    mkdir $HOME/terminus
    cd $HOME/terminus
    curl -O && php installer.phar install
  2. Generate a Machine Token from within User Dashboard > Account > Machine Tokens. Then use it to authenticate Terminus:

    terminus auth:login --machine-token=‹machine-token›

    For details, see Terminus Manual: Install.

  3. Once installed, verify your session:

    terminus site:list

    If you see your Pantheon sites, then it was installed and authenticated successfully! Once you are comfortable with Terminus, you may find it faster to use than the browser.

Create Your Site and Initialize Environments


The next few secions of this guide use the example variables tessa-site-wp and "Terminus Demo Site" as the site name and label. Make sure to replace each instance, as well as other variables like the site URL and user/password combinations, with your desired values.

  1. Create a new WordPress site on Pantheon:

    terminus site:create tessa-site-wp "Terminus Demo Site" WordPress

    If you would like to associate this site with an Organization, you can add the --org option to the command above and pass the Organization name, label, or ID. To associate an existing site with an Organization, use the site:org:add command.

  2. Open your new Site Dashboard in a browser:

    terminus dashboard:view tessa-site-wp

    Keep this window open while you continue reading so you can see the changes you are making in Terminus almost immediately in your Site Dashboard.

  3. Get the platform domain for the Dev environment:

    terminus env:info --field=domain

    You'll need this to fill out the --url option in the next step.

  4. Use the WP-CLI core install command to install WordPress on the Dev environment:

    terminus wp -- core install --url= --title="Terminus Demo Site" --admin_user=admin --admin_password=changemelater

    As a reminder, WP-CLI is the command line utility for WordPress itself. Terminus is simply passing through the WP-CLI commands to the site on Pantheon. To get a full list of WP-CLI commands run:

    terminus wp -- help

    The -- signifies the end of the Terminus options, anything after -- gets passed straight to WP-CLI.

  5. Create the Test environment:

    terminus env:deploy tessa-site-wp.test --updatedb --note="Initialize the Test environment"
  6. Create the Live environment:

    terminus env:deploy  --updatedb --note="Initialize the Live environment"

Export the Site Name as a Variable

  1. Instead of having to type the site name out, let's export our site name to a variable so we can copy/paste the remainder of our commands:

    export TERMINUS_SITE=tessa-site-wp

    This sets an environment variable named $TERMINUS_SITE with the value tessa-site-wp. Anytime we use the variable name it's replaced in the executed command with the value.

  2. We can test this by echoing our variable:


    You can now copy and paste the remainder of these commands without replacing the site name, as they use the $TERMINUS_SITE variable.

  3. Let's see our new variable in action. Get the connection information for the Dev environment:

    terminus connection:info $

Install WordPress Plugins

The WordPress plugin repository has loads of free and paid plugins. For this example we will install and activate the Contact Form 7 plugin.

  1. Install and activate the Contact Form 7 plugin:

    terminus wp $ -- plugin install contact-form-7 --activate

    If you have the Site Dashboard open, you'll see that 78 files have changed and are ready to commit in the yellow box. You can use the Site Dashboard interface to review file changes and commit, but we'll continue on the command line.

    Pantheon Site Dashboard: Install CF7

  1. Review the file changes:

    terminus env:diffstat $
  2. Commit your changes to the Dev environment:

    terminus env:commit $ --message="Install CF7"

    If you refer back to the Site Dashboard, you'll see the commit on the Dev environment: Pantheon Site Dashboard: Commit CF7

  3. Deploy the code to Test and pull content down from Live:

    terminus env:deploy $TERMINUS_SITE.test --sync-content  --updatedb --note="Deploy C7 plugin"

    Ensure you clear the site cache after deploying the code to Test:

    terminus env:clear-cache <site>.test


    The --sync-content option will pull the database and files down from the Live environment. In a real-world scenario, your content editors most likely have added posts and files in the Live environment. For proper testing, you want those updates present on the Test environment with your deployed code. For more information on options for the this command, run terminus env:deploy -h.

  4. Activate the Contact Form 7 plugin on the Test environment by making a manual configuration change:

    terminus wp $TERMINUS_SITE.test -- plugin activate contact-form-7
  5. Once you've experimented in the Test environment and verified that your new plugin is working, and everything else is still in working order, deploy to Live:

    terminus env:deploy $ --updatedb --note="Deploy after CF7 Install"

    Ensure you clear the site cache after deploying the code to Live:

    terminus env:clear-cache <site>.live


    We don't need the --sync-content flag when going to the Live environment because that environment already has our canonical database.

  6. Activate the Contact Form 7 plugin on the Live environment by making a manual configuration change:

    terminus wp $ -- plugin activate contact-form-7

For this example, manually applying configuration changes is a simple and short task. We're only activating one plugin on each environment. However, complex configuration changes are best managed in code so you can pull fresh content from Live while bringing in the site settings from Dev.

Install WordPress Themes

Now that you have WordPress installed, let's make it look a little better by adding a new theme. The WordPress theme repository has a plethora of free and paid themes you can install to customize your site. For this example we will use the Shapely theme.

  1. Install and activate the Shapely theme:

    terminus wp $ -- theme install shapely --activate
  2. Check out the Dev environment's site URL to see the new theme in action. The terminus env:info command from earlier gives us the URL. Here it is again with our environment variable:

    terminus env:info $ --field=domain
  3. Commit your changes to the Dev environment:

    terminus env:commit $ --message="Install shapely theme"
  4. No WordPress site is ready for development without a child theme. Let's create one! Run the scaffold child-theme WP-CLI command (replace Tessa-child-theme and shapely):

     terminus wp $ -- scaffold child-theme Tessa-child-theme --parent_theme=shapely

    You should see the new theme within Appearance > Themes of the WordPress Dashboard:

    Pantheon Site Dashboard: Child Theme Installed in WordPress

    Now you're ready to edit your child theme. This allows your parent theme, in our case Shapely, to receive updates without conflict or interference to the functionality of the site.

    Apply configuration changes, such as activating the child theme, then make sure everything looks good on the Dev environment's site URL.

  5. Commit your changes to the Dev environment:

    terminus env:commit $ --message="Create Child of Shapely Theme"
  6. Deploy the themes to Test and pull content down from Live:

    terminus env:deploy $TERMINUS_SITE.test --sync-content --updatedb --note="Deploy Themes"

    Ensure you clear the site cache:

    terminus env:clear-cache <site>.live

    Apply configuration changes and make sure everything looks good on the Test environment's site URL.

  7. Deploy code to Live, then apply configuration changes:

    terminus env:deploy $ --updatedb --note="Deploy Themes"

    Ensure you clear the site cache:

    terminus env:clear-cache <site>.live

Using Terminus and WP-CLI

This guide has just scratched the surface of what can be done. Terminus provides the power to manage most aspects of your Pantheon sites, while tools like WP-CLI (and Drush for Drupal) give you the power to manage the inner workings of your WordPress powered site. Now you're ready to take the Sandbox site we've setup and explore on your own to see what else is possible.

For more information, refer to the following documentation: